Thick snow cover posing new risk to Amarnath pilgrims

June 22nd, 2012 - 3:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Amarnath Shrine Jammu, June 22 (IANS) Thick snow cover at Kashmir’s Amarnath cave shrine and on the route leading to it is posing multiple risks to pilgrims and has increased challenges before the organisers of the annual pilgrimage, due to start here June 25.

Although the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has doubled its efforts to clear the track for the over-350,000 registered pilgrims for the Amarnath Yatra 2012, the inclement weather that persisted until two days ago has made some stretches dangerous for trekking, an official said.

Navin K. Choudhary, SASB’s chief executive officer, who recently surveyed the route, found the cave shrine and the stretch between Sheshnag and the Mahagunus pass, which is at 14,500 feet above the sea level, still covered with thick snow.

Choudhary said he was “confident” the pilgrimage would start as scheduled, but his optimism rested on the hope that the tracks would be cleared before June 25.

“Weather conditions can change in a matter of minutes at such heights,” an SASB spokesperson said.

Combined with unpredictable weather and lack of oxygen at that altitude, the snow could multiply the dangers for pilgrims proceeding on a steep and slippery track, he said.

Governor N.N. Vohra, chairman of the shrine board, said: “Our prime concern is that the pilgrims should travel comfortably and that there should be not a single loss of life.”

Last year, 117 people died during the pilgrimage, particularly from cardiac-related ailments. This year, the SASB has set up control rooms and made it mandatory for the pilgrims to submit physical fitness certificates before proceeding to the shrine.

Pilgrims, however, said they were ready to take the risk. “We will proceed to the shrine come what may,” said Sunil Jandiyal, a devotee.

“We have seen worst situations in the past,” said Vijay Kumar from Punjab, who is leading a convoy of trucks to set up a ‘langar’ or free kitchen at Baltal, a base camp en route to the cave shrine.

The pilgrimage will conclude on Aug 2.

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